Winner of the Palme d’or in 2001 for The Son’s Room, the Italian film-maker is presenting his eleventh feature film and his sixth in Competition at Cannes. Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope), his portrait of a Pope who feels unable to take up his role, has divided Catholic opinion.
After the Left, the cinema, the education system and Silvio Berlusconi, Nanni Moretti turns his ironic gaze on the Church. In The Mass is Ended (1985), he had already sniped at religion in his portrayal of a young priest whose help is rejected by the people. In We have a Pope, the action takes at the headquarters of the Roman Church, at the Vatican, as the conclave meets to elect a new Pope. Panic ensues when the elected cardinal (Michel Piccoli), terrified by the function he is called to fulfil, refuses to present himself to the crowd assembled in St Peter’s Square.
Nanni Moretti has found the ideal context in which to balance personal and political questions, the essence of his cinema since I Am Self-sufficient in 1976. As is often the case with Moretti, tragedy is mixed in with the comedy. Tragedy at the Vatican, where the conclave of cardinals attempts to deal with the crisis. Comedy in the streets of Rome into which the Pope escapes.
It would be a mistake to believe that Nanni Moretti, who plays the therapist sent by the religious authorities to help the Pope assume his functions, has abandoned his autobiographical streak by setting his film in the Vatican. “There is something of me in both the character of the psychotherapist and in Melville’s (the Pope’s) feelings of discomfort and inadequacy“, stresses the director, who has already played a therapist once before in The Son’s Room.
On general release in Italy since 15 April, We Have a Pope is enjoying enormous success, stirring debate even within the Catholic Church. Although Vatican expert Salvatore Izzo has published an appeal to boycott the film in Avvenire (the journal of Italian bishops), the Jesuite review Civilità Cattolica and Radio Vatican have both defended the film’s respectful, humanist approach.
Nanni Moretti, explaining that at no point did the Vatican try to intervene in the making of the film:
“I made a film with my own actors based on my own screenplay. There was neither obstruction nor support from the Vatican. Besides we only partially tried to recreate the décor of the Vatican, looking rather for something more understated.”
Michel Piccoli recalls the days leading up to when he was finally given the leading role:
“When I was asked to play the Pope in a film by Nanni Moretti, I said yes at once. However, he didn’t say ‘yes’ as quickly as me! We did a few auditions and a few days later he told me ‘It’s you.’ To be honest, I could have ended my career with a Nanni Moretti film.”
Nanni Moretti responds to critics who have focused on the lack of religious faith in his film:
“When people say there is no religious faith in ‘We Have a Pope‘ I agree with them! I’m sorry that I don’t believe in God. But nothing in my way of treating the subject suggests a desire to attack those who are strong believers. I wanted to show the Vatican as I see it and not to make a film denouncing the place. I had no wish to be conditioned by current events.”
Nanni Moretti, on the Vatican’s influence in Italian politics:
“The various hierarchies of the Vatican have always interfered in Italian politics, but it seems that in more recent years, the political parties themselves have been much more sensitive to the Vatican’s positions.”
POLISS – by MAIWENN
The team from Polisse (Poliss), in Competition, turned out in force for the press conference. Maïwenn was joined by her producer, Alain Attal, and by eleven of the film’s actors: Emmanuelle Bercot (who was also co-scriptwriter), Karine Viard, Joeystarr, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Karole Rocher, Frédéric Pierrot, Arnaud Henriet, Naidra Ayadi, Jérémie Elkaim, and Sandrine Kiberlain.
Inspiration for the film and Maïwenn’s research in the Child Protection Unit
Maïwenn: “It’s the passion of police officers and the weapons they make to protect themselves against human depravity that made me want to make this film. I am fascinated by anything to do with children. Childhood, fatherhood and motherhood are the common threads that run through my films.”
Maïwenn: “During my research period, I witnessed a paedophile being brought to face a 16 year old teenage girl who he had abused ten years previously. The girl told the whole story and the accused confessed that what she said was true, word for word. And that day I saw something incredible. Her whole body was trandsformed: her body, her hair, her skin.”
Maïwenn: “During filming, I promised the Social Services that I would only include material that had been written and approved by the Social Services, and I respected that. Scenes involving children were carefully considered and supervised (by a psychologist and an inspector from Social Services).”
On the character played by Maïwenn
Maïwenn: “I wanted a character who was close to my role as director. But in the end, the very introverted character I played lacked the energy you need to direct a film. It was a casting mistake (laughs).”
Actors’ impressions of the police
Jérémie Elkaïm: “The time we spent with former Child Protection Officers really changed how I see the world. It makes you realise that stuff could be going on in any house. I saw everything through the prism of rape and paedophilia.”
Maïwenn: “I am obsessed by the truth. If actors keep to the script and it sounds true, I leave it. If it feels like they are just waiting their turn and they aren’t listening to each other, I ask them to improvise, or I whisper something in one of their ears to throw the other off.”
Maïwenn’s method as seen by the actors
Sandrine Kiberlain: “In other films, there’s a whole ceremony, a way of doing things: you practice the scene a bit, then its lights, camera, action. With Maïwenn, there’s none of that normal division between acting and rehearsing. You don’t know when it’s going to start or when it will stop. To begin with, I was thinking, ‘What is this all about’, but after a while I found it helpful.”
Marina Foïs: “She isn’t interested in what we know. It’s a chance for us as actors to do something different.”
How Emmanuelle Bercot has influenced Maïwenn and vice versa
Maïwenn: “I love her cinema, her very structured way of thinking. Also, she went to FEMIS film school, whereas I left school when I was 13. She has helped me a lot with her discipline and organisation. Now I can’t imagine working without her.”
Emmanuelle Bercot: “She brings her incredible freedom and complete lack of convention. She is about constant movement. Everything can always change. And when she has an idea, she acts on it straight away. It’s very refreshing.”
Maïwenn has had quite a run. At the age of 35, the French actress and director has been selected In Competition in Cannes, with her third feature film, Polisse (Poliss). A very realistic film about the daily life of police officers in the Brigade for the Protection of Minors.
Polisse. It is “police” written by someone who does not know how to spell. A child, for example. Polisse was filmed at the Brigade for the Protection des Minors (BPM). With a camera on her shoulder, Maïwenn films the detention of pedophiles, the questioning of abusive parents, the statements of children who are victims, but also the relationships between the police officers.
As in her two previous films, Maïwenn interprets what she observes, from behind the lens. In Pardonnez-moi (Forgive Me), she filmed a personal journal and in Le Bal des actrices (All About Actresses), she created a documentary about actresses. In Polisse, she plays a photographer who has been hired by the Ministry of the Interior to cover the BPM on film. One of the police officers (Joeystarr) falls in love with her. Before she knew that she would make a film about the BPM, Maïwenn wanted Joeystarr to play the lead role and that it would be a love story about two people from very different backgrounds. “I wrote this film for him. He was my motivation and my muse,” says Maïwenn.
Documentary, fiction and autobiography are always intimately blended in Maïwenn’s work. In Polisse, however, she crosses over from her own world (her family, the world of film) to explore a social reality that has profoundly moved her. In search of the truth above all, she immersed herself over several months in the BPM. As a result, every story told in the film was inspired by true situations that she witnessed, or that the police told her about. The actors also took training with former police officers from the BPM to become very familiar with the job, and also to create the atmosphere in the Brigade of being part of a group, almost a family.